There are news reports this morning, including from the Daily Mail, of an elderly doctor knocked out and forcibly dragged from a United Airlines flight because the flight was "overbooked" and the man refused to voluntarily give up his seat (yes, he was already seated). A couple videos of the incident:
From The Daily Mail article:
Audra Bridges, one passenger who filmed the man's removal, described what happened on the flight to the Courier-Journal.
She said that passengers were told at the gate that the flight was overbooked and staff appealed for one volunteer to accept $400 and a hotel stay to take a flight at 3pm the next day.
All the remaining passengers were then allowed to board the flight - only to be told that another four people would have to give up their seats.
United said that four-stand-by staff needed to be in Louisville for a flight the next day and the plane would not take off until they had seats.
Even when the offer was increased to $800, no one volunteered.
At this point, Bridges said a manager came onboard the flight and said four 'volunteers' would be randomly selected by computer.
After a couple was picked and left the plane peacefully, then man was selected and refused to leave the flight.So, just to be clear, United deliberately overbooked the flight, but the actual overbooking was only by 1 person, and there was a volunteer who decided to leave. The passengers then boarded the flight and were seated. Then United decided it needed to fly its own people to a different location, requiring four more seats. United then doubled its offer for someone to stay overnight and fly the next day, which offer had no takers.
This is where the socialism enters the picture. Remember, United had agreed with its putative passengers to fly them at a certain time to a certain place for an agreed upon price and, in fact, had already taken the money from the passengers. It was completely upon United's head that it was unable to fulfill its obligations. Thus, it fell to United to renegotiate the arrangement.
United offered $800, which was not enough to get any takers (and, if the man was a doctor, the $800 hardly compensates him for losing a day's worth of income). In a free market world, United would have then had to offer more money until it reached prices that would convince enough people to take the later flight. In fact, only by having to offer the market price will United have incentive to eliminate overbooking or undertake better planning of how and when to transport its own employees to different locations.
In this case, however, the free market was not at work. First, United only made the initial offer because the government forced it to do so as an attempt to mitigate past abuse (i.e., past breaches of contract for which United apparently did not suffer any consequences). Second, having fulfilled its obligation under regulation, it still breached its contract, but this time resorted to government coercion (the law enforcement officers removing the passenger) in order to remove the passenger that wanted United to honor its contract.
And before I get any comments on this point, I understand that United uses standard boiler-plate language in its contracts that pretty much allow it to void the contract whenever it wants. But even if such provisions were enforceable, what we see with overbooking in general, and in this case in particular, is bad faith on the part of United. They deliberately entered into contracts with passengers with the intention of not honoring some of them, or breached them through their own negligence and/or misfeasance. By resorting to force, they seem no better than loan sharks or gangsters breaking the kneecaps of recalcitrant victims.